WASHINGTON Cars and vans equipped with antilock brake systems have accident rates 9 to 10 percent lower than non-ABS vehicles, according to a report done by Failure Analysis Associates Inc. for two automobile associations. ``This report shows motorists that ABS provides a benefit for the investment they make,'' said Thomas Carr, manager of regulatory liaison for the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, at a Feb. 1 press conference announcing the report's release.
The AAMA and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers (AIAM) commissioned the report, which was performed by Edmund Lau and Jeya Padmanaban of Failure Analysis, based in Menlo Park, Calif.
Wet and icy roads show ABS to best advantage, according to the report. Accidents under those conditions were reduced 17 to 19 percent when vehicles were equipped with antilock brakes, it said.
For dry roads, the effect of antilock brakes was less pronounced, but still substantial, with an accident reduction rate of 6 to 8 percent. ``They appear especially effective in reducing multiple- vehicle crashes,'' the report said.
Injuries also drop considerably-10 to 13 percent-when ABS is involved, the report stated. For wet-road accidents, the injury rate falls 24 to 28 percent with ABS.
``On packed snow and ice, ABS allows you to do a good job (of braking),'' said George Parker, AIADA vice president of engineering affairs and a former official of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
``Most drivers are not good at panic response,'' he said, ``because it's not something they practice. But ABS maximizes the performance of the vehicle; it shortens stopping distances and allows the driver to steer.''
Mr. Lau and Ms. Padmaniban studied more than 43,000 accidents-more than 17,000 of those involving ABS vehicles-in Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina to reach their conclusions.
Previous studies on ABS by NHTSA, the Vehicle Information Centre of Canada and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also failed to yield unqualified endorsements.
The IIHS found no overall safety benefit to ABS; NHTSA found some, but not enough to initiate rulemaking mandating their installation on cars.
However, the nation's top safety regulator said that ABS shouldn't be written off.
Prior to its release, NHTSA Administrator Ricardo Martinez was briefed on the Failure Analysis report. ``The studies have found that ABS is effective in the situations they are designed for-wet, slippery, icy roads,'' he said.
``They've also been shown to be effective in preventing collisions with bicycles and pedestrians.''
NHTSA's studies last year found that ABS-equipped vehicles were involved in more one-car fatal accidents in which the vehicle ran off the road. They also found a higher incidence of non-fatal frontal collisions with fixed objects involving cars with ABS.
According to the NHTSA studies, ABS-equipped cars also were more likely to be in fatal rollover crashes and fatal side impacts with fixed objects.
The Failure Analysis study is ``unique,'' according to Ms. Padmaniban, because it evaluates both the number of accidents and the number of cars on the road. NHTSA only considered accident numbers, she said, and the IIHS used only insurance claims.
Mr. Lau and Ms. Padmaniban, however, could not explain some anomalies in their figures, such as why ABS did not seem to prevent highway deaths. ``There was no measurable difference in the rate of involvement in fatal accidents between vehicles with and without ABS,'' the report said.
More accident analysis is necessary on the connection between ABS and highway fatalities, Mr. Lau said.
Matt Stover, an analyst for Paine Webber Inc., said the mixed results of the studies could lead some vehicle manufacturers not to make ABS standard on some future models when there is an issue of affordability.
``When you talk to some of the manufacturers, ABS and affordability.*.*.*tend to get mentioned together,'' he said. ``The question is, will the customer be willing to pay extra for ABS?''
Insurance companies are evaluating the ABS studies. When the technology started hitting the market, most car insurers did not offer discounts for customers who owned ABS-equipped vehicles because they wanted to wait and see if the discounts would be justified.
Of the companies that did offer ABS discounts in the hope of driving the technology into cars, two now have discontinued them.
Mr. Martinez said car dealers have an obligation to introduce customers to the safety systems on their vehicles, not just turn over the keys and expect drivers to know how to use a technology like ABS.
``My bias is they are effective,'' he said. ``Both of my vehicles have ABS. But during an emergency is not when to learn how to use them.''
To promote the proper use of antilock brakes, ABS suppliers Robert Bosch Corp., General Motors Corp.'s Delphi Chassis Systems Division, ITT Automotive and Kelsey-Hayes have formed the ABS Education Alliance.
Automotive News reporter Phil Frame contributed to this report.